About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Security Branch

This section of the South African Police* (SAP), also known as the Special Branch, had a high profile and operated with cold-blooded efficiency. In the 1960s, after the Soweto massacre, the Minister of Justice, B.J. Vorster, granted the Security Branch wide powers to track down, detain and torture suspected activists and opponents of apartheid. Police spies infiltrated underground organizations (such as the ANC* and PAC* that had been banned, as well as the re-formed SACP*). For the decades from 1960 to the mid-1980s many political activists were detained without trial and subjected to strong-arm questioning. Many, notably Steve Biko in 1977, died while in police custody. Others were abducted and assassinated, or simply disappeared without trace. Spying activity also provided the Security Branch with useful information. In the 1970s, for example, a government spy, Craig Williamson, infiltrated the SACP and was able to feed tactical information to the government. The Special Branch was supplemented in 1969 by the Bureau of State Security (commonly know as BOSS), a high-budget intelligence service that was replaced in 1978 by the National Intelligence Service. In 1987 and 1988, with violence in the country reaching civil war proportions, the security forces bombed the headquarters of COSATU* and that of the SACC*, but the government denied all knowledge of the attacks and this information only subsequently came out in the TRC* hearings in the late 1990s.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.